Please introduce us to Denis Nzioka
Denis is a 31yr old man, a journalist by training, a Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) member and sex worker activist by choice and a Programs Manager at the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA). Denis is also a human rights activist especially promoting the rights and dignity of the LGBT and sex workers community. He has worked among the most marginalised communities in Kenya, both as a trainee priest and an activist. This included far off places such as Wajir in North Eastern Kenya. These experiences have shaped his passion for advocating for marginalised persons.
Religiously speaking, LGBT and religious faith are poles apart...
Humanly speaking the LGBT community is comprised of human beings who deserve respect and dignity. They are entitled to all the rights of a human being. It's a pity religious platforms and the government have combined efforts to fight this community. When I was in seminary, gay Catholics would come to me for support and honestly, I was saddened by the discrimination the church expressed towards them. That's how I joined them to be their spokesperson. God himself is love and what's more, the LGBT community comprises of our very own brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, neighbours....name them.
Are you aware that sex work is illegal in Kenya?
The Penal Code specifically penalises "living off the benefit of prostitution." In that case, in my translation, any beneficiary, directly or indirectly, of money earned through sex work is guilty. This includes the church that gladly accepts my 10 per cent and the barber shop where I go for my hair do. As a matter of fact, the African Sex Workers Alliance is in the process of challenging this section so sex workers can work without the threat of arrest, harassment or persecution.
Educate us on this: who is a sex worker?
That's a brilliant question because sex work has really been misunderstood. A sex worker is any person male or female who gives sex or sexual related services to a client whether male or female and receives compensation for the services. Sex work is diverse by definition. It is generally defined as the exchange of sex, or sexual services for money, gifts and/or any other sexual services. This ranges from cuddling, caressing, sperm donation through sex, serving as an "escort," to the real act of sex. If, for example, a woman wanted just to be seen with a handsome man for just show off, a sex worker will kiss her, hold her hands and "play boyfriend" in front of her audience at an agreed fee. Also, if a man wanted my services, I would give it in the capacity of a man who has sex with men (MSM). But all the above is what is referred to as sex work.
Sex work has health implications, how is ASWA addressing that?
ASWA was formed to advocate for the health rights of sex workers including HIV prevention, Sexual and reproductive health and the associated rights (SRHR) and others without discrimination. We don't promote sex-work; far from it. We seek to ensure that any person doing sex work is treated with dignity and respect. We give peer education in training workshops and conferences locally and internationally so that a sex-worker is able to confidently negotiate for safer sex and we also equip them with condoms and lubricant to protect themselves and their clients. We seek to promote safer sex with our clients, and partners to reduce HIV transmission. Those who are living with HIV are given information on how to live healthy lives, as well as protect themselves from reinfection.
Sex workers are always on the wrong side of the law; how does ASWA address this?
Often, sex workers are charged with offences such as drunken and disorderly, solicitation, or loitering which we are challenging in court. Legal support for sex workers is available when they are arrested. We work with lawyers to ensure that sex workers are well represented in court. Sex work is not proveable in court since most police only arrest the sex worker and not their clients.
You sound like ASWA spends a lot of money, who funds ASWA and the workshops?
There are many donors out there supporting sex work and their human rights such as the Global Fund, the HIV/Aids Alliance among others. These organisations understand that empowering sex workers in terms of HIV/STI prevention, they are empowering the nation. When a sex worker is safe, then the client is also safe. Remember that the client could be a wife, mother a husband or father and if they are protected, the entire family is protected.
Sex-work is associated with indecency and lack of adequate education...
Oh dear, what a terrible stereotype! Do I strike you as an indecent or an uneducated person? I must agree that there are some people who get into sex-work for lack of another option but ASWA has the prerogative to educate them to be decent and treat sex-work with the same esteem as they would other offices. We know for a fact, there are people who abuse office and sex-work is no exception. You may find sex-workers who steal from their clients just like you would get a lawyer or a doctor who steals from their clients. You can't condemn the whole lot, can you?
Now, let's talk about Denis as an individual, what was your motivation into sex-work activism?
There are many reasons to engage in sex work. For some it's the monetary value they get, to others its choices, while others do it because it is a form of supporting themselves. There is no one reason to engaging in sex work. Furthermore, sex is pleasurable, and beautiful. Sex should be enjoyed whether with a man or woman. I chose to advocate for sex workers because there are many human rights violations facing sex workers and therefore I want to change that.
What’s your relationship with women like? How do you identify as?
I have long lasting and beautiful relationships with women. I am the proud father of three children where I donated sperm to a lesbian couple and to other two married couples. I am expecting a fourth child with a surrogate mother. I value and respect all women. I neither identify as gay, or bisexuals. Labels are just that – labels. I consider myself as well formed and grounded person who attracts and falls in love with other human beings – be they men or women.
Have you had challenges as a sex worker activist?
A: Yes, only last year, I was physically assaulted by unknown persons and survived an attempt on my life. I was also arrested for holding a march for gay rights in 2010. Furthermore, I have been evicted forcibly by landlords who happen to know about my activism. Hundreds of times, I have also been bullied and shamed online and even one tabloid outed me.